Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will be releasing their long awaited special report on renewable energy sources (SRREN) from Abu Dhabi on 9 May, announced Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, UAE Special Envoy for Energy and Climate Change and Chief Executive of Masdar.

Renewables have the potential to bring power to the world’s poorest regions, boost energy security for nations dependent on imports, and curb the CO2 emissions that fuel global warming, the draft said. The 30-page "summary for policy makers" — boiled down from 1,500 pages — is being vetted at a May 5-13 meeting of the 194-nation Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) in Abu Dhabi, and will be unveiled Monday.

"The final version is likely be substantially different in wording and perhaps somewhat in emphasis, but not a great deal in substance," said an industry representative participating in talks. By far the most comprehensive UN assessment of the status and potential for the clean energy sector, the report weighs 164 separate development scenarios.

Six types of renewables accounted in 2008 for 12.9 percent of global energy supply: biomass (10.2 percent), hydropower (2.3), wind power (0.2), solar energy (0.1), geothermal energy (0.1) and marine energy (0.002). Once traditional use of firewood and animal dung for cooking and heating is set aside, however, that percentage drops to about seven. Coal, oil and gas together make up 85 percent, and nuclear energy two.

Boosted by some government policies, declining technology costs and rising fossil fuel prices, "deployment of renewable energy has been increasing rapidly in recent years," the draft summary said. The sector contributed, for example, nearly half of the 300 gigawatts of new electricity generating capacity added worldwide in 2008 and 2009, with more than 50 percent installed in developing countries. Coal accounted for most of the rest.

Drafted before the Fukushima plant meltdown in Japan undercut the so-called nuclear renaissance, the summary said renewables will likely make a higher contribution to low-carbon energy supply by mid-century than nuclear energy and carbon capture and storage (CCS) combined.

Overall, a majority of projections reviewed show a "substantial increase" — ranging from 3-to-20 fold — "in the deployment of renewable energy by 2030, 2050 and beyond." Many scenarios showed renewables reaching 200 to 400 exajoules (EJ) a year by mid-century in a world where total primary energy supply is forecast to be about 1,000 EJ, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

Clean energy’s share of future supply varies hugely across different forecasts, with the most ambitious envisioning a world in which it covers three-quarters of all energy needs. But the continuing growth of renewables is not inexorable and faces many barriers, ranging from vested political interests to inadequate incentive structures for developing new technology, and fossil fuel subsidies.

"To achieve international climate mitigation targets that incorporate high shares of renewable energy, a structural shift in today’s energy systems will be required over the next few decades," the report said. It will also take a lot of money — 1.4 to 5.1 trillion dollars for the coming decade, and another 1.5 to 7.2 trillion dollars for the period 2021-2030.

Currently, use of fossil fuels in the energy system accounts for some 60 percent of all greenhouse gases. UN climate talks have remained largely stalemated since the near collapse of the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, even as scientists warn that climate change is accelerating.

"Renewable energy can help decouple development and rising emissions, contributing to sustainable development," the draft summary said. Global cumulative CO2 "savings" between 2010 and 2050 will total 220 to 560 gigatonnes (Gt) off a projected accumulation from fossil fuel sources of 1,530 Gt over the same period, according to various scenarios.

The SRREN report will enable policy makers, the private sector and civil society globally to identify ways in which to integrate renewable energy technologies into future energy systems. The report will also offer a snapshot of environmental and social consequences associated with the integration.

Abu Dhabi will witness ten days of activity related to IPCC as it first hosts the committee in charge of finalizing the SRREN report during the period 5 – 9 May. This will be followed by the 33rd plenary session of IPCC (10 – 14 May) that will be attended by more than 600 delegates representing all member countries of the UN.

Dr. Al Jaber said: "Following the release of the IPCC fourth Assessment report and its clear language on the role of renewable energy in mitigating climate change, it was obvious to many countries that a more detailed report on renewable energy would be crucial in future dialogues.

"Taking into consideration the due diligence conducted by the IPCC authors and technical experts on all its reports, the UAE views this as an affirmative signal on the importance of its ongoing drive towards development, deployment and commercialization of renewable energy technologies worldwide through the Masdar Initiative."

"Moreover, the fact that the UAE is hosting the release of this very important report is further testament to the international community’s confidence in our ongoing efforts," he added.

Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, Chairman of the IPCC, said: "As someone who has been following closely the progress Abu Dhabi is making in the renewable energy sphere, it makes perfect sense for the IPCC to release this significant report in the UAE.

"Abu Dhabi is investing so heavily and responsibly in renewable energy. It is fast becoming the renewable energy center of gravity. It gives me a great sense of pride to have been someone who followed this progress since the beginning. I believe we will see even more innovation and engagement from Abu Dhabi in the future."

The Directorate of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) within the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Masdar and various stakeholders in the United Arab Emirates will be attending the meetings on behalf of the UAE.

The DECC will also be attending the IPCC 33rd plenary session from 10 – 14 May where Dr. Al Jaber is scheduled to make an opening statement.

Twenty one years ago, in 1988, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to provide independent scientific advice on the complex and important issue of climate change. The panel was asked to prepare, based on available scientific information, a report on all aspects relevant to climate change and its impacts and to formulate realistic response strategies. The first assessment report of the IPCC served as the basis for negotiating the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Since then, the IPCC has remained the most important source of scientific, technical and socio-economic information to many of the world’s most relevant stakeholders.

So far, the IPCC has produced four assessment reports. The IPCC 4th Assessment Report (AR4) resulted in the awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize to the former Vice-President of the United States and the IPCC for their "efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about manmade climate change, and to lay the foundation for the measures that are needed to counteract such change". The publication of the fifth assessment report is due in 2012.